Radiating instability of a meridional boundary current

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Hristova, Hristina G.
Pedlosky, Joseph
Spall, Michael A.
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Boundary currents
A linear stability analysis of a meridional boundary current on the beta plane is presented. The boundary current is idealized as a constant-speed meridional jet adjacent to a semi-infinite motionless far field. The far-field region can be situated either on the eastern or the western side of the jet, representing a western or an eastern boundary current, respectively. It is found that when unstable, the meridional boundary current generates temporally growing propagating waves that transport energy away from the locally unstable region toward the neutral far field. This is the so-called radiating instability and is found in both barotropic and two-layer baroclinic configurations. A second but important conclusion concerns the differences in the stability properties of eastern and western boundary currents. An eastern boundary current supports a greater number of radiating modes over a wider range of meridional wavenumbers. It generates waves with amplitude envelopes that decay slowly with distance from the current. The radiating waves tend to have an asymmetrical horizontal structure—they are much longer in the zonal direction than in the meridional, a consequence of which is that unstable eastern boundary currents, unlike western boundary currents, have the potential to act as a source of zonal jets for the interior of the ocean.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2008. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 38 (2008): 2294-2307, doi:10.1175/2008JPO3853.1.
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Journal of Physical Oceanography 38 (2008): 2294-2307
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